And they say Simon Cowell isn’t interested in music. Tim Lane corners everyone’s favourite pantomime villain on his Los Angeles home turf
It’s weird, suddenly being face-to-face with someone who you’ve spent what must now run to days’ worth of your life calling every name under the sun. As he smiles and shakes hands, it’s almost as if he’s been able to hear all those expletives. So as he starts being very likable, you start to feel a bit guilty. Quite quickly, you think, “He’s all right.”
Simon Cowell clearly understands (and enjoys) the different roles he plays in people’s lives. He knows that to a 16-year-old who wants to sleep with/be Harry Styles, he is basically God. By the same token, he knows that to a 30-year-old pop cynic whose album of the year is Arctic Monkeys – ie, me – he is the devil. Albeit the kind of devil we’re all a bit jealous of deep down.
Our meeting takes place at the world launch of the new Jaguar F-Type coupé in Los Angeles – although the esteemed UK car manufacturer has done a fine job of hauling Britain over the pond. As well as homegrown music, beer and Brit-themed canapés, everywhere you look there are expat celebrities working the huge, Union Flag-draped aircraft hangar.
But there’s one celebrity Brit who doesn’t need to do anything to grab everyone in the room’s attention. And he has just finished his cigarette, so let’s press on…
We’re talking at the launch of the new Jaguar, so we should get a car question out of the way. What was your first car?
It wasn’t really a banger. The first car I actually bought was a Renault 4 and it was a really, really fun car to drive. It had a stick in the middle and a bench seat, which I really like, at the front. It was slow, but I’d actually get another one of those. It was fun.
You produced the Paul Potts biopic One Chance, but only appeared in it via old footage. Were you not tempted to suggest a new scene for yourself?
Funnily enough, I did actually think that. I said I was happy to play myself to Harvey [Weinstein, the film’s distributor], but I didn’t get a response back. I think I could’ve done a better job acting it. But I’ve seen the movie twice now and it’s a fantastic film. It’s really feel-good.
You’re also branching out into the West End with I Can’t Sing: The X Factor Musical. How’s it shaping up?
That’s going to be a blast. It’s going to be so funny.
Could it be turned into a film as well?
I don’t know. I mean, the story is very bizarre, because Harry Hill is slightly insane. So it’s got me, it’s got a talking dog, it’s got some weird hunchback who lives up in the rafters who wants to kill me, and the weirdest ending I’ve ever seen. They just take the p*ss out of me and the show throughout.
If it was made into a big Hollywood adaptation, who would play you?
Of course. Staying with The X Factor, what have you made of Jake Bugg’s comments about...
What’s that? [Knowing smile.]
It is a British musician who’s been quite critical of “that X Factor sh*t”...
Ah, that’s a shocker.
Do you get a kick out of how much your shows wind certain people up?
No, but why do people get so upset that there’s a show that gives people who can’t get a record deal a chance to have a record deal? I mean, what’s the problem? Look, everyone’s had a pop at it, and I criticise people on the show so you’ve got to expect it back in return. But you know what? They all secretly watch it. They’re all, “I hate it” and get really angry, but they’re watching it every night.
Moving on, what did you make of Russell Brand’s calls for revolution?
A revolution? He’s getting $10m a movie. I mean, come on!
To be fair, he’s been keen to point out it’s for the people...
Of course it is! Well, give your money back then, Russell. I always say that about people. Start off as you mean to go on. Donate all the money back to the revolution and then I’ll believe it. I’m living in a 10-million dollar mansion and I want a revolution? Give me a break.
Would you ever consider moving into politics?
No, God no. I mean, I get slaughtered anyway, but there, there’s no upside. I had a little run-in with Michael Gove, the education minister, recently because he took what I said as a joke [Cowell said the secret of success was to be “useless at school and get lucky”] really seriously. But once he took it seriously, I got my point across which was that actually – like myself – there are lots of people who leave school without any qualifications. They shouldn’t be made to feel like failures. Some people just don’t have that kind of brain.
What do you think the answer is, then?
I always believe in the old-fashioned system of things like apprenticeships, which is kind of what I went through. I had to teach myself the job, I didn’t make any money for 15 or 20 years and then I started to get good at it and started to make some money. All that wasn’t based on the fact that I did well in school. Like I said, some people have that kind of brain and some people, like me, don’t. But it’s wrong to say that you can only be considered a success if you get 10 GCSEs.
Back in the world of music, David Bowie’s return was the big surprise of this year. Do you admire the way he did it?
Well, I mean, he is legendary, isn’t he? I listen to his records now and it’s incredible. Heroes, Life On Mars?, The Jean Genie; when you have a catalogue like that you can come back whenever you want.
So would he get through if he went on The X Factor today?
What, at his age? In the ‘Overs’? Yeah, definitely.
Where do you stand on universities banning Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines? Do you think pop should ever be censored?
To be honest with you, I’m one of those people who doesn’t really listen to lyrics that clearly, so when somebody told me about [the ban], I didn’t know what it was about. It’s a great pop song.
Christmas is approaching. What are your unbreakable festive rules?
We always watch It’s A Wonderful Life. I watched it last week and it’s the best Christmas movie of all time. Every time I see it, it always puts me in a good mood. And then Trivial Pursuit, Balderdash… but I’m always in the Caribbean. I go somewhere hot now.
What about Christmas food rules? Do you have a signature gravy recipe?
Well, you’ve got to have Bisto. That’s No1 and it’s the one thing I learned from being out in LA; you always have to bring your own Bisto with you. And you’ve got to get your mum to teach the chef how to do the roast potatoes, because they do the little ones here and I like the big ones.
The new F-Type coupé – the most dynamically capable, performance-focused production Jaguar ever – will be on sale next year; jaguar.co.uk
(Image: Rex Features)